This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Put Water In Your Pastor's Gas Tank

The next two weeks’ sermons will be very personal for me as we talk about preaching. As I’ve been preparing, I was reminded of the following description of the responsibility of congregations to their pastors. I’m grateful for Bethany Community’s commitment to sound teaching and looking forward to the next two weeks.
Fling him into his office.  Tear the ‘Office’ sign from the door and nail on the sign, ‘Study’.  Take him off the mailing list.  Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible.  Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and the lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.
 Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God.  Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are.  Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through.  And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.
Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every non-essential.  Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence.  Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.
Burn his eyes with weary study.  Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God.  And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man.  Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God.  Rip out his telephone.  Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets.
Put water in his gas tank.  Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit.  And make him preach the Word of the living God!
Test him.  Quiz him.  Examine him.  Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine.  Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting.  Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist.  Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day—“Sir , we would see Jesus.”
When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God.  If he does not, then dismiss him.  Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, better than he can.
Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Break him across the board of his ill-gottten popularity.  Smack him hard with his own prestige.  Corner him with questions about God.  Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom.  And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.
And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left—God’s Word.  Let him be totally ignorant of the downstreet gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly.  Place a two-edged sword in his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant.  For he was a brave soldier of the Word.  And ere he died, he had become of man of God. 
(Quoted in Peter Adam's Speaking God's Words, pp. 161-162).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Idolatrous Homeschooling

The following is a re-post from an article I wrote last year. Someone asked if I had written anything on homeschooling and I remembered this post. It was an article I wrote in preparation for speaking at a homeschooling conference. Since writing this article, we've had a child begin attending public school. I should probably write a follow-up article on Idolatrous Public Schooling. 

This Friday, I have the privilege of leading two workshops at the APACHE homeschooling conference.  One of my talks is entitled "The Idol of Family."  While Whitney and I have enjoyed our years of homeschooling very much, the homeschooling lifestyle can easily cause my heart to begin to create an idol out of my family.  Homeschoolers face some unique temptations to idolize the family because of decisions they have made regarding the structure of their lives.  

Before I continue, a few caveats:

(1) What I'm saying is not an attack on homeschooling.  It's some "in-house" observations.  All decisions we make can lead to creating an idol of something.  

(2) The idol of family is not a problem exclusive to homeschoolers.  In some ways, I could just switch around some words and give this talk to Christian school parents or public school parents.  If our family went to Peoria Christian School, I'm sure I'd have some observations about the manifestation of idolatry in the hearts of private schoolers.  In the coming years, I'm sure my heart will be challenged as my kids attend public school and I'll have another talk or two about that.  

(3) Don't read between the lines too much.  I'm not trying to launch a veiled attack at anyone.  I'm not really a movement homeschooler and so although I'm aware there are homeschooling "camps" (or militias?), I'm not a member of any, nor do I understand all of the differences between them.  I may be saying some things that sound like an attack on some camps but, to the best of my knowledge, that would be unintentional.  (That being said, maybe the nerd picture is a little harsh...?)

(4) Loving one’s family is biblical.  The danger comes when I set my heart’s ultimate affection not upon God but upon the five other individuals who make up my immediate family.

In my talk Friday, I’ll be defining idolatry, briefly looking at the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2, then considering six signs you struggle with idolizing the family.  Here’s a rough overview of some of the things I plan to say about those six signs.
Six Signs You Struggle with Idolizing the Family 

#1: You abuse your God-given parental authority. 

Homeschooling parents, as they envision the type of children they would like to raise, can become confused regarding the nature, extent, and purpose of their authority.  This leads them to potentially abuse the authority God has given them.
The purpose of parental authority is not to impose our will upon someone else.  As Jesus said regarding the difference between our natural understanding of authority and God’s design for authority among believers: 

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The purpose of authority in Scripture is to serve.  Parents exercise spiritual authority not by conforming their children into caricatures of themselves but by helping them know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t mean that biblical parental authority is devoid of decrees and dictums that are to be obeyed.  To the contrary, as biblical parental authority is properly exercised, children should be all the more careful to follow their parents' instructions exactly.  But the goal of exercising authority is radically different for the believer who wishes to avoid idolatry.  The parent is mindful of the biblical restraints placed upon his sphere of authority.  There should be a reluctance to go beyond that sphere or impose his will.

Homeschooling parents can struggle with the notion that their children will act in ways that are contrary to their preferences for their life.  Their idolatrous conception of what the ideal family looks like may drive them to exercise authority in realms where it is unwise to do so.
#2: You are motivated not by trust in God but by fear of man. 

God calls us to trust in Him and believe in His good plan for us.  Making decisions regarding  your children’s schooling because you are fearful of people is idolatrous. 
This does not mean we should treat sinful influences in our children's lives lightly.  God has called you to be mindful of the environment you place your children.  If a family decides that the best school for their child for a period of time is in their home, that is wonderful.

Do not, however, be so fearful of the world’s power that you believe God is at its mercy.  A teacher does not have the power to turn your child into a communist or vegetarian.   God still sits enthroned in the heavens and laughs at the schemes of the rulers of the earth (Ps. 2:1-4).
#3: You respond sinfully when your goals for your family are not met.

Our reaction to disappointed dreams reveals what we really worship (James 4:1-10).  When our goals for our family—however noble—are frustrated, the response of our heart reveals whether we were worshipping God or an idol.
#4: You view your children as an end instead of a means.

Hannah desperately longed for a child.  But as 1 Samuel 1-2 makes clear, she did not view her precious child as the end goal.  Even the gift of a child was a means to worship God.
Your children are not the end goal.  Your children are yet another means God has given you to engage in worship of Him.

#5: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the family.  

The way many homeschoolers conceive the family is not how the Bible would understand family.  They rightly love the individuals who live in their home, but they are tempted to believe that their familial responsibilities are fulfilled by simply meeting the needs of the nuclear family. 
In Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson addresses “semantic anachronisms.”  Carson writes: “This fallacy occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature” (33).  The way we center our lives around the nuclear family is a recent cultural phenomenon.  When we encounter the family in Scripture, we are sometimes guilty of the semantic anachronism of which Carson speaks, assuming that Scripture understands the family the same way we do in North America.  

It is important to teach children not to idolize the nuclear family.  Our family doesn’t exist simply to meet the needs of the individuals who live under our roof.  We seek to honor and care for our grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and the family of God.

#6: You teach your children to have an unbiblical view of the church.

The unbiblical view family leads to an unbiblical view of the church.  Homeschooling families can become so consumed with their nuclear family that they don’t have the energy or desire to engage in ministry in the local church. In some circumstances, families may even say that homeschooling is their ministry. 
But this attitude is harmful for both the church and the family.  It deprives the church of the vital spiritual gifts that the members of the family possess.  It hurts the family as they fail to experience the joy of serving others.

I pray that God blesses our children as we strive to help the grow in their walk with Christ.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Tool for Staying Informed

In high school, I entered several speech tournaments to fulfill the requirements of an elective I took. At two or three of the tournaments I participated in, I entered the "extemporaneous speaking" event.

In extemporaneous speaking, the judges assigned you a randomly selected topic related to a current event and you had about 10-15 minutes to prepare a speech.  Good extemporaneous speakers were already well-prepared. Their research of current events was thorough and they had numerous well-labeled and organized files from which they could quickly glean the salient points of a topic for their speech.

My files were rarely well-labeled and never organized. I don't remember how I did in these tournaments, which makes me assume I probably did rather poorly. I tend to remember my successes.

The need to be well-read and up-to-date on the issues, however, is still important for me. Some of you have asked me what I do to stay informed. Let me answer that question, but first consider one of the reasons why we should be well-informed.

Between Two Worlds

In Between Two Worlds, John Stott exhorts pastors to know not only the world of the Biblical text but also the world in which their audience lives.
It is because preaching is not exposition only but communication, not just the exegesis of a text but the conveying of a God-given message to living people who need to hear it, that I am going to develop a different metaphor to illustrate the essential nature of preaching. . . . The metaphor is that of bridge-building.
To build the bridge requires exposition of the contemporary world:
I take it for granted that, in addition to careful listening, we shall read a daily or weekly newspaper (for many years now I have found a thorough reading of a weekly much more profitable than the cursory scanning of a daily), watch some television, and peruse the secular book reviews in order to discover the most influential contemporary books to get and read.
Stott wrote these words before the digital age in which we now found ourselves. The principle is still sound, though the implementation has changed. I encourage believers to continue to be exegetes of their culture.

A Tool for Exegeting Our Culture

Disclaimer: the rest of this post kinda sounds like a commercial. I am not receiving money for any products or websites mentioned, though I would be perfectly willing to do so.

In the digital age, I think it is ironically more difficult to stay informed. Many media outlets, be it print, radio, or internet, give superficial treatment to news stories.

There are many tools that are useful to help us be better informed. One of the ones that I recently found is an app called "Feedly." It is currently marketed as a replacement for Google Reader. I never used Google Reader, but I read a review of the app and decided to check it out.

I really, really like it.

You add any website, blog, or news site into Feedly and it organizes the stories for you. There were so many websites I would visit and numerous individual apps I used to visit them on my iPad or iPhone that it was a little daunting. Feedly allows me to see all the stories and articles together from various sites, then I decide which ones to read. It keeps stories organized by categories and allows you to remove stories once you've read them.

What have I personally put into my Feedly? I have the feeds from Real Clear Politics, Real Clear Religion, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Drudge Report, CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and various other blogs, including, of course, God Centered Christian.

Any other suggestions for staying informed? Any suggestions of sites to include in a Feedly?

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Judgment of God, Part 2

In my last blog post, I promised to share the purposes of God in judgment, the revelation of grace in judgment, and Jesus’ message of judgment.  I promised this because I believe that the message of judgment has been ignored and even pilloried in both the Christian and non-Christian communities.  I also believe that a restoration of understanding of the judgment of God is necessary both to spiritual revival of believers and to societal reform in general.

What are the purposes of God in judgment?

God will not tolerate rivals.  Where people embrace objects of worship other than the true God, especially when they pretend to worship the true God as well, God will bring His judgment.  Consider these verses from the prophet Joel:
 2:27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.;
3:17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
    who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
    and strangers shall never again pass through it.

Our worlds, our relationships, our feelings, our self-concepts have been the center or our attention for far too long.  Judgment awakens us to this and calls us to smash the idols of our hearts.  God alone is to be loved and worshiped above all things.  He will not tolerate rivals.

Second, God will fight against His people if necessary to bring them to repentance.  Judgment brings down pride and self-confidence.  God hedges us in until there is nowhere else to turn except to Him.  In Zephaniah 1:12-13, the LORD speaks of His people Judah:

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them.”

When God’s people are complacent (v. 12), when God’s people say that the Lord will not act one way or another based on rebellion (v. 13), God will visit with judgment.

Third, God visits judgment on all nations that pridefully reject Him and His people.  Zephaniah 2:10 says:
This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
    because they taunted and boasted
    against the people of the Lord of hosts.

Putting God on Trial??
In all of these, we might think that we can accuse God of egotism.  That is, how dare God judge people for not honoring Him?  What gives God the right to do so, when, if any of us were to so act, we would be wrongly egotistical?  The answer is that God knows all things and, above all things, knows Himself supremely.  He is not being obnoxious when He knows that He Himself is the highest good, the most honorable object of worship and praise, and the only being worthy of worship and praise.   God deserves all honor and glory from His creation.  So much so, that creation will be judged wherever there is failure to give God the honor that is due Him.  Isaiah 48:10-11 is instructive here:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
    I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
    for how should my name be profaned?
    My glory I will not give to another.

The reason that God judges these matters so seriously is that the expressed purpose of creation’s existence is to bring honor and glory to the God who made it.  So, when we fail to honor and glorify God, we fail in our only mission.  Revelation 4:11 says this explicitly:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

God is not mean.  Rather, He knows that He is our highest good.  In fact, He is not just our highest good, He is THE highest good.  So, the true worship of God is the highest affection that we can pursue.  Any other pursuit pales by comparison.

So, how does the judgment of God reveal the grace of God?
We must first understand that grace is only understood as grace when we recognize that we only deserve judgment.  I fear that today, there is an expectation of the grace of God.  That is, we somehow think that we deserve God’s grace, or at least we can certainly expect God’s grace.  This leads to a shallow view of the sinfulness of sin, a diminishment of our shame before our Maker, and ultimately to a failure to understand the miracle of grace.  Grace is less wondrous when we think it is an obvious reaction of a holy God to ruined sinners.  Therefore, grace can only be comprehended when judgment is felt, is intellectually comprehended, and is indeed experienced.  The failure of the church at large to declare the righteous judgments of the Lord has led to a gross misunderstanding of grace as overlooking sin on the one hand and a diminishment of our wonder and joy over real grace on the other.

Next, we must recognize that some people will come to Christ because of fear of judgment.  In fact, that might be the only motivation which will move them to faith.  Fear might not be the best motivator, and there are many other reasons to come to faith in Christ.  However, let’s be clear—if the fear of real and coming judgment will cause a person (by means of the grace that God supplies) to come to repentance of sin and faith in Christ as Savior, then judgment has revealed the grace of God.  Jesus Himself considered this a good motivation.  Consider His words in Luke 12:4-5:
Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterwards have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the one who after he has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him.

A third consideration of how judgment reveals grace is how human beings think.  We all long for a verdict.  We want justice done; we look to human judges to give proper judgment.  This is a uniquely human quality.  There are no courts in the animal world, no police departments for dogs, no legislatures making laws among the apes, no executives carrying those laws out among flocks of birds, no judiciary interpreting the laws among the cats.  Have you ever considered why we were uniquely made this way—to want a verdict, to want judgment?  This comes from being made in the image of God.  We want to know that the righting of wrong will happen.  And in fact, the judgment of God is the assurance to the human race that ALL wrong will be righted, either by its satisfaction at the cross of Christ or by its satisfaction in the judgment of God upon the dwellers of the earth.  What a grace to know that ALL wrongs will be righted!  What comfort to the one who suffers terribly on this earth and never finds justice or judgment.  What a blessing to know that there will come a time when all the human race will acknowledge that God has done it correctly—all judgment has been properly, rightly, and perfectly meted out.  God wants to be worshipped for His true nature and character, which includes the making right of all wrong.  God will be honored and glorified among the nations.  Philippians 2:9-11 shows that this indeed will happen:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Finally, we ought to consider the words of Jesus about judgment.  He spoke quite frequently of judgment.  He used the fear of judgment to motivate people to repentance (see Luke 12:4-5 above).  He also pointed out that we ought to be careful in executing our own judgment (Matthew 7:2).  In fact, we will be accountable on the day of judgment for every careless word that we speak (Matthew 12:36).  Even something that we regard as a relatively minor offense like being angry at our brother subjects us to the judgment of God (Matthew 5:22).

There is a sizable portion of Jesus’ teaching in which He declares great judgment on those who have received the revelation of God via His Word and His Son and have rejected them.  Jesus’ words on this subject ought to sober everyone who has been privileged to hang around God’s people and to be exposed to the Word of God.  Jesus commonly states that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for those who smugly believe that simply their exposure to God’s truth somehow prevents them from judgment.  No, it is rather the repentance of heart, the submission of one’s life in faith in Christ in response to the truth that saves us from judgment.  Have you fooled yourself into thinking that because I attend church and am taught the Bible that that will mean that I escape judgment?  You will not, and the judgment will be harder for you because of your exposure to truth, unless you respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.  See: Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:41-42; Luke 10:14; 11:31-32.  Jesus asserts His position as judge.  That is, He is the judge of all the earth.  This position is one that Jesus has received from His Father.  John 5:22, 27:
The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.

The reason that Jesus gives for being judge is that all might honor Him.  When we go to a courtroom and the judge enters, everyone rises.  This is out of respect for the judge, for the rule of law, and ultimately for the real Lawgiver, the God of the universe.  The purpose of Jesus’ being judge is that all might honor Him, just as honor must flow to His Father.  John 5:22-24:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Have you heard the word of Jesus and not yet believed?  Judgment will be worse for you!
But if you hear the word of Jesus, and believe that God sent Jesus to save you by His death at the cross, you will not come into judgment.  Instead, you have passed from death to life.
Judgment.  It’s not a word we hear much about these days.  But this neglected word might well be the most important word for today.  My prayer is that, as with Nineveh in the days of Jonah, the message of coming judgment might be used by the Spirit of God to grant great repentance and faith.